Sixth formers reinterpret the future railway in The Apprentice-style skills challenge

In the week leading up to World Youth Skills Day on Saturday 15 July, 16 students took part in a classroom-to-boardroom challenge. The aim was to develop their business skills and introduce them to potential future opportunities in the rail industry.

On Monday 10 July, Network Rail’s Research, Development & Technology (RD&T) team tasked the sixth formers from Trinity School in Croydon to develop an idea based on one or more capabilities from the Rail Technical Strategy Capability Development Plan. This plan sets out what the industry is focusing on to revolutionise the railway over the next 30 years and beyond.

The group travelled to Network Rail’s Milton Keynes office three days later to present their proposals to an expert panel.

Answering the brief to help Network Rail and partner organisations engage with their peers – Millennials and Generation Z aged 17 years and under – the team created a prototype and business plan for a new smartphone app they called Rail Master.

The app was their solution to capabilities three, four and nine: efficient passenger flow, more value from data and personalised customer experience. Its aim, as part of wider changes, was seamless passenger journeys, enabling ticketless barriers and a ‘virtual concierge’ – for example, remembering regular purchases such as tickets and station-bought items so that they are ready in advance.

The group separated into teams focusing on market research, product development, marketing, information technology and finance, presenting their proposal to a cross-industry panel including National Railway Museum’s Ellen Tait and London Midland driver manager Sarah Higgins; and from Network Rail, Kevin Blacktop from the RD&T team; Tim Craddock, HR director for Route Businesses; Sinead Trudgill, Head of HR for Safety, Technical & Engineering and Group Digital Railway; and David Rowe, Head of Strategy for RD&T.

The experts were on hand for a question and answer session to offer tips and insight, simulating the experience of presenting a business case for investment decision – and to marvel at the way the group got to grips with the complexities of the railway.

The event was a big success for everyone. The students were able to build useful business skills and gained some great feedback for their impressive achievement this week, while we had the opportunity to hear from them about their thoughts and ideas.


Bringing new technology to the railway will be most successful with the support and inclusion of all parts of society. This challenge draws on the creativity and energy of some of the young people who will both be using, and potentially implementing, some of the capabilities.

David Rowe

What really fascinated me was how quickly they grasped the challenge, learnt about the complex subject and then presented to the panel. I recruit a lot and the most helpful skill is the desire and ability to learn. Technical knowledge can be taught later if there is a willingness to learn, and today they all proved they have this skill.

Sarah Higgins

Our generation is the future, and it’s not often that we have the chance for people to listen to our ideas like they did today – it was great to come here and think that we could actually influence the railway. I think the future will be about convenience for the customer.

Maria (pictured above, right)

What Network Rail does directly impacts us as users of the railway, and it was fascinating to see the future set out in the [Capability Development Plan] leaflet. It’s what we’ll be living through when we’re older. It was interesting to see that such progressive thinking is in place.

Laura (pictured above, left)

What excited me was what the railway could be in 20 years’ time. Coming here and doing the research, I’ve found that there’s so much going on beneath the surface. I have a much better understanding of the rail industry and what goes on behind the scenes, not only with Network Rail but also with the train companies.

Jonathan (pictured above, right, with team members Kailan and Prem)

The event was organised with the help of Entrepreneurs in Action, which develops enterprise programmes for young people in partnership with organisations from a variety of industries.

Our aim is to empower young people to change the future. The fourth industrial revolution is digitalisation and that was in evidence today. It was great to see such an engaged audience.

Derek Browne, CEO of Entrepreneurs in Action (pictured below presenting a certificate for the event, right, next to David Rowe, centre)

The jobs that exist today are unlikely to be the same 20 to 30 years from now. Roles will change as in every other sector, so it’s important that we think about the skills that young people might need to prepare them.

Sinead Trudgill

The Rail Technical Strategy Capability Delivery Plan, published in January 2017, has been developed collaboratively by the rail industry. Network Rail is working as part of a cross-industry team – under the joint sponsorship of the Rail Delivery Group and Rail Supply Group – to progress the plan, which describes the key capabilities needed to deliver a better railway, sustainably and affordably, for passengers and freight.